Full and Active Participation:
1. From Pre-Vatican II to full and active participation
Vatican II encouraged the participation of the laity in an otherwise cult like ritual. I am a pre Vatican II Catholic, and I speak from experience only. I followed the Latin (Tridentine) Mass with my little Father Stedman missal. I knew the prayers in Latin as well as English. But I did not know what was going on. An un-bloody sacrifice were the words I employed but it was simply a literal translation with no meaning.
Yes, after the changes, we got a little carried away with banners, and songs, and dancing. However, we were engaged. It was the beginning of the new rite with full, active, conscious participation. We were celebrating the beautiful Paschal Mystery. I cannot document this with lofty texts as many of you do. Cardinal Mahoney unified our actions with his pastoral Gather Faithfully Together. When that document is studied, the actions of all have meaning - the role of the presbyter, the ministers and the assembly give us a flowing, reflective, liturgical action. When we deviate and put our own desires into the communal action, then there is chaos, because the harmony has been disrupted. The wonder and awe of the Extraordinary Rite is exemplified in the silence and in the understanding we now have as we participate fully in the apostolic tradition of sharing the bread and the cup - the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus the Christ.
2. Full and Active Participation: coming to the table in our humanity
The Eucharist is the celebration of our entrance into the presence of God, one that involves an embrace of who we are in our ruggedness by the Trinity who is in love with us just as we are. If this is the case, the Eucharist ought then to be a place where one fully discovers oneself; a self that is called to be in multiple relationships with the Trinity, fellow humans, and the cosmos. The question ought then be asked: how does the liturgy as celebrated make these its focus? It is not a celebration that involves an individual relationship with God. It is not a celebration involving a disembodied self. Did Jesus come to save our spirits or the totality of who we are?
The Eucharistic table is a place where divine hospitality is fully realized. It is a place where the Trinity opens itself wholly to us without reserve. It is a place where the Trinity makes itself vulnerable before us; a vulnerability that is enacted by the suffering they experienced on the cross that is grounded in the generous love they have for creation. If this is at the center of their generous invitation to the church and her members who participate in this activity, then we ought to ask ourselves as church, how much of this is clearly reflected in the way we gather and celebrate.
In some churches I am familiar with, the lector and/or priest announced: “Only those who are in the state of grace should come forward.” Who can declare himself/herself to be in a state of grace if not God? The sacraments are meant to be aids for those in need of wholeness and not a reward for those who are righteous.
Simon Aihiokhai, firstname.lastname@example.org
University of Portland
3. One’s meaning of the liturgy depends on the meaning one brings to it
Consider the difference between the average weekday mass in a Catholic parish and a Sunday mass in a very active parish. Your experience may be different from mine, but the daily masses that I’ve attended in various parishes are pretty lifeless. The ritual is rather routine, the homily is easily forgettable, and if there is music, it is often played and sung by the organist with little participation by the assembly. The average Catholic Sunday liturgy is not much better. There are more people in attendance, there is a choir that sings, and there are lay ministers doing the readings and distributing communion, but the experience as a whole is rather formal and, I would guess, somewhat removed from the lives of many who are there.
I am fortunate to have been a member of a charismatic community in the past, and to have found a non-geographical parish where I live now. In both cases, the people attending choose to be there. And in both cases, a large proportion of the assembly are actively involved in some ministerial activity, either serving the church or serving the surrounding neighborhood. Moreover, the liveliness of people’s involvement in worship on Sunday tends to be proportionate to their involvement with each other during the week. The type of involvement does not seem to matter. It can be very outgoing, like visiting the poor, or very inward, like being in a prayer group. The result is a liturgical experience that is both lively and meaningful, but the meanings that resonate in people’s minds and hearts are the meanings that they bring to the celebration, not the meanings in the liturgical text.
Joseph Martos, email@example.com
Comment from Linda:
This describes very exactly the experience I have with a large, varied, and rapidly growing Episcopal (!) parish in north-central California. Although ages vary from 0 to 100, the vital engine seems to be the church youth group, which is laser-focused on mission, domestic and (latterly) foreign. It has been formative for my teenage grandchildren. Their faith and dedication inspires the older people and draws the younger children to want to be with and like them. The young people (some of them still in elementary school) are very active in the Sunday liturgy as readers, singers, and instrumentalists as well as acolytes; the whole parish gets involved in their food drive and the fundraising events for their mission trips; adults contend for the chance to chaperone the trips. And Sunday Mass is the heart of it all.
Linda Maloney, LMMALONEY@csbsju.edu
4. Thanksgiving and Rejuvenation
I tend to lean toward the third option, which focuses on Eucharist as thanksgiving and the idea of Eucharist as healing. I don't know that we should eliminate from the mass the idea of the sacrifice of the mass, but maybe the emphasis should be on thanksgiving and rejuvenation. This understanding calls for greater participation, although there is still the danger of that participation being perfunctory instead of heartfelt.
Regardless what understanding we have of the Eucharist, greater education of the laity is imperative. So many in the pew, even if they appear more engaged, still think of receiving the sacrament as something to check off on the list and not as truly the profound experience that it is.
David Von Schlichten, firstname.lastname@example.org
Seton Hill University
5. Various parish experiences
I just finished teaching an undergraduate class on Eucharist, Reformation and sacrifice. The students, as they have been most of the semester, were more engaged than I anticipated. But it was clear that the theme of sacrifice as an act of atonement/appeasement was not their approach to God (nor mine!).
Assisting at a variety of parishes on weekends I appreciate forms two and three in the proposed discussion, but would avoid an "either/or." I find a form of "inculturation" key to building participation. And, along with inculturation there needs to be continuous liturgical formation - of the ministerial staff as well as the congregation. One parish where I helped for a number of years was particularly good at this. It took several years to promote the formation – and some resources along with a remodeling of the worship space. Simultaneously there was a building of community to better engage people in worship, and that flowed from more engaged worship. Unfortunately the new pastor prefers a vernacular Mass with a 1950's style and spirituality.
One of the parishes where I now help would be above average in terms of participation. It benefits from being smaller both in terms of numbers and the worship space. The space itself is rather traditional but holding just a bit more than 200 people, and the pastor's commitment to enhance community, worship has very good and engaged participation though I doubt they would be comfortable in the style of St. Sabina's.
Another parish is larger in terms of families and worship space. And Sunday evening Mass presents challenges of its own. Originally intended as a "Youth" or "Young Adult" Mass, it really is a pretty mixed community, often drawing people from other parishes. The congregation does not really fill the space which inhibits a sense of community, and empty space works against active participation. At the same time, I often feel a sense of engagement, attentiveness during the homily, and people leaving with a feeling that they were happy to have been there – or at least not burdened to be there. I feel there is some real potential which the new pastor may be able to draw upon.
Key themes: attentiveness to where people are at and a willingness to meet them there; an idea of where the congregation might be able to go; a commitment on the part of the parish leadership to provide the resources and energy for ongoing liturgical and faith formation.
Frank Berna, email@example.com
La Salle University
6. What are sacrament in common church practices?
Sacraments are individualistic rituals that only require an individual and a minister for their performance, but not a community, e.g. baptism, ordination, the Mass.
Sacraments performed according to the requirements of the law are said to be “valid.” Thus a marriage with witnesses, the celebration of the Mass with an altar server, and one Mass celebrated without an altar server “for a just and reasonable cause” (canon 906) are all valid.
Participants and spectators of a sacrament add nothing to its validity. A secret ordination or marriage, and a Mass with no altar server are as valid as a sacrament before millions. So why attend Mass? It’s the law, under penalty of sin.
Valid sacraments are said to be “efficacious,” that is, effective ex opere operato. A valid baptism, ordination or marriage cannot be repeated, except by switching to a different Christian church or through a legal process like an annulment.
Our contemporaries do not think in terms of validity, efficaciousness and legality. A new theology is needed.
It is rightly said that the description of the Eucharist in Justin the Martyr corresponds to the structure of the Mass today. Yes, but with two differences. We read: “There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine; and he taking them, ...offers thanks at considerable length [other translation: according to his ability ]” The thanksgiving (eucharistein) was improvised “at considerable length” or “according to his ability” while today it is a mechanical performance said to be “efficacious” by itself. Second, thanksgiving was a communitarian, not an individualistic celebration, while in the Middle-Ages it became an individualistic devotion in a foreign language. To a great extent it is still an individualistic devotion today.
There needs to be a different theology of sacraments in general and the Mass in particular or the Catholic sacramentality will increasingly be seen as foreign by contemporary believers.
7. A Protestant’s experience
I find this topic quite interesting, not only because of my interests in religion and theology, but because of a recent experience as a Protestant working in a small Catholic college-seminary. Let me say, first, though, that I would not put myself in a place of trying to advise the Catholic Church regarding their practice or theology of the Eucharist, which I probably don’t understand anyway. I suspect Pierre is quite right that a new theology is needed; we simply don’t think any more in the categories originally used to formulate the Eucharist or other sacraments. (We have some of our own parallel issues in Protestant traditions).
When my wife and I first arrived in this community, we attended the daily 8 a.m. mass. We enjoyed it very much. I especially liked the chants, the scripture readings, and the occasional singing, and the homilies sometimes were quite good. And I valued highly starting the day with spiritual reflection in the context of my community. But, of course, as Protestants, we did not stay for the Eucharist or we just stepped outside the pew and waited while others in our pew returned, so they could have their settled spot in the pew. However, after a month of daily attendance, I realized that I might be causing a stir, which I certainly didn’t want to do, so I quit attending mass, going now occasionally only to the Sunday evening vespers, which doesn’t include the Eucharist
It became clear to me, if I can read body language at all and overheard some comments accurately, that one of the attendees from the local community was not happy with our attendance. I don’t know why, and she never said anything directly to me; actually she seemed to go out of her way to avoid me, and appeared obviously unhappy when I was within reach during the passing of the peace. I tried to ignore it because, so far as I could tell, the rest of the college-seminary community had no problem with our attendance. Then a student came to me one day and very graciously said, “If you feel left out, you could come forward for a blessing from the priest.” That was an “aha moment.” I’d forgotten all about that practice (which I’d seen at Catholic weddings and funerals). I realize that for the Catholic Church and the priests who make the invitation for a blessing, it’s a gracious act of inclusion. However, for me as a Protestant, it is experienced as an act of condescension.
I’ll certainly participate in the Eucharist when the Church opens it to outsiders. As I thought about it, it seemed the better part of wisdom to refrain from putting people in the difficult position of explaining my attendance and lack of participation.
Anton Jacobs, firstname.lastname@example.org
8. Understanding the experience of medieval sacramentality
Medieval Christians knew from experience that the sacraments were effective. The sacraments’ effectiveness was part of their social experience (marriage was indissoluble, men with priestly powers could offer the sacrifice of the mass and give absolution from sins, bishops could ordain and confirm, etc.) or their personal experience (e.g., forgiving sins or having them forgiven in confession, experiencing the presence of Christ in the Eucharist). The intellectual challenge for the scholastics was to figure out how they were effective. Using Aristotelian philosophy, they sought to understand how physical church rituals could produce spiritual effects.
Key to the scholastic explanation of sacramental effectiveness was the technical term, sacramentum et res (often rendered into English as sacramental reality), which, simply put, bridged the gap between matter and spirit. Today we would call it an explanatory concept, but to the medieval mind it was something real. Broad acceptance of the sacramentum et res reinforced and extended the habit of speaking about sacraments as given and received. For example, priests were said to administer baptism, bishops were said to confer confirmation and holy orders, and the ones who were the subjects of the rituals were called the recipients of the sacraments.
In Deconstructing Sacramental Theology and Reconstructing Catholic Ritual, I demonstrated that the scholastic understanding of sacraments—and hence Catholic sacramental doctrine, which is still largely based on scholastic theology—was based on multiple misinterpretations of biblical and patristic texts. It therefore has the scientific credibility of phlogiston and the explanatory value of a three-dollar bill. No wonder sensible Catholics have rejected it, either by developing their own understanding of sacraments or, more drastically, by leaving the church!
As I argue in the last chapter of that book, Catholics the world over need to develop their own sacramental theologies, that is, their own understanding of their own culturally appropriate church rituals. But this cannot happen until the Catholic hierarchy acknowledges that the church’s sacramental doctrines are intellectually bankrupt.
Joseph Martos, email@example.com
9. Being in control of ritual participation
The old fashioned quiet Latin Tridentine Mass meant that you could meditate, think, or pray whatever you wanted. You were in control. You could bring your rosary and pray it during Mass. You could bring your English Missal or you could bring nothing at all. Just stand up, sit down, and kneel at the proper times. It was your imaginative world with the interesting or not interesting sermon and your individual holy communion with Jesus. Private piety was at a premium with all this silence, broken by occasional music.
Then Vatican II came along with folk Masses, as if everyone liked folk music. You had priests explaining everything that they did. Besides, it was all in English, what was there to explain? You were given pieces of paper and practiced the singing before each Mass. You held hands with people you did not know and then shook their hands. The people in charge of the liturgy, the priests, the altar servers, the choir, the readers, the ushers, and the communion ministers were all excited about these changes. They wanted you to be excited also. However, it is important to reminder that change is always better when you are in charge of it. When change is done to you, you are more resistant.
A Sunday Mass is still great for small towns where people gather and get together after Mass. Old folks love it because they get out of the house and see other people that they usually do not see. Even some busy families with kids like the idea of Sunday morning church and then a brunch.
However, the young single life style has no connection to this old fashioned way of doing things. We have failed to understand that technology has changed the way that we enjoy life. We went from the TV to cell phones. People need to feel that they are in control of their prayer life, whether it is a sacrifice or a thanksgiving.
Eugene Finnegan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Calumet College of St. Joseph
10. EUCHARIST and the LITURGY of CHURCH Universal: Calling for a New Morality.
It is in the nature of cosmic ordering that earth-life is ever in process of transformation ‘from within’. The ‘within’ dynamic of cosmic, transformational life appropriates energy/ matter in every aspect of the ongoing, transubstantial inter-phasing of soul/ body.
An authentic sense of universal, inter-dependent connection urges common liturgy (people-work) toward CHURCHES UNITED in the moral work of hallowing the Sacrament of Natural Order.
Sylvester L. Steffen, email@example.com
11. Reply to Pierre
As I read the opening lines of your short reflection my entire body was resisting what you wrote. You began by saying that the sacraments are individualistic rituals... I beg to disagree. Yes, Roman simplicity has somewhat robbed us of the rich celebrations of the sacraments. Yes, western theological traditions have defined the sacramental power to reside in the celebrant who bestows the sacraments on the individual. These are perspectives which cannot become the only view.
If the sacraments exist for the church and in the church then they ought not be seen as individualized rituals. The faith that seeks to be confirmed in the recipient is first a communal faith before it is an individual faith. The effects of the sacraments are both on the community and the individual who is always seen as part of the community.
Take for example the initiation ritual in African indigenous religious contexts. The initiation is not just understood as the individual entering into the community but also as the community entering into the life, worldview, and mission of the individual.
Simon Aihiokhai, firstname.lastname@example.org
University of Portland
12. The need to create communities
At present I am translating a textbook on liturgy as well as some materials for the Integrierte Gemeinde's long-distance course on Theology of the People of God (to be provided through one of the Roman universities). The common message of both is: church is about creating community. We're not doing that terribly well at the moment in any of our churches..., A major problem with our churches today is segregation of races and classes. We need to be about bringing different people together, not further isolating them in their own tiny worlds.
(This morning one of the parishioners remarked on the sparseness of the congregation, then said, "oh well, the priest is here, that's what's important." Au contraries, said I -- the priest is only here because the congregation is here; otherwise her existence is completely superfluous.)
Linda Maloney, LMMALONEY@csbsju.edu
13. Can the liturgy offer critical reflection on praxis?
In a nutshell, full and active participation IN WHAT? If that simply means participation in an hour a week on Sunday mornings by being a lector, a Eucharistic minister, or even simply saying all the words right (words that they have been told to say), that seems an incredibly flimsy yardstick of our hopes for the liturgical lives of the faithful. When our churches mostly look like theaters, we can't be surprised if people treat liturgy like a spectator sport.
In my undergraduate days we discussed Gustavo Gutierrez' definition of theology as it happens in base Christian communities as "critical reflection on praxis." If parishioners are doing antiracist work, engaging with refugees, opposing the prison-industrial complex, whatever, how does the liturgy engage that or help people reflect on it? If that reflective work should happen somewhere else in the life of the parish, where? When the priest sets the agenda for what gets reflected on in the homily (usually so "safe" as to be irrelevant), when the music minister chooses the songs, when the liturgy coordinator writes the prayers of the faithful, "full and active participation" turns into "follow the leader."
Patrick Cousins, email@example.com
Saint Louis University